MILWAUKEE — When Jean Segura took his place at shortstop on Monday, he became Milwaukee’s fifth different Opening Day shortstop in five years.
The Brewers shipped two young shortstops away in trades and had two stopgap starters the past two years while they searched for a long-term solution.
When the Los Angeles Angels showed interest in Zack Greinke at least season’s trade deadline, Segura was high on general manager Doug Melvin’s priority list to get back in the deal.
22-years-old at the time, Segura was an extremely talented prospect that still needed some seasoning in the minor leagues. Just eight months later, and he’s already flashed signs of tremendous ability at the big league level, won a batting title in winter ball and staked claim to the shortstop position for years to come.
“He’s probably even better than we thought when we made the deal,” Melvin said. “He’s gone beyond expectations. When we made the deal, I’m not sure we really thought he’d be a big leaguer at this time.”
As he walks through the home clubhouse at Miller Park, Segura’s growth in confidence is glowing. He’s relaxed. Something that wasn’t always the case when he came up last August.
The first 19 games were a struggle. Hits were few and far between, something that can be damaging to a young player. But then something clicked. Segura hit .309 the final month of the season and hasn’t looked back.
Segura went to the Dominican Winter League and won the batting title. Then came a tremendous spring training where he hit .367 in 21 games, and now Segura has four hits in his first seven at bats of 2013.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke sees a totally different offensive player than he did last August, a lot of it having to do with confidence.
“It’s easier when you come up during the season,” Roenicke said. “He already has big league experience. If we were coming into spring training this year and he was a guy either coming out of Double A or Triple A and saying it’s your job, that’s a lot of pressure on a player.
“This is a very confident kid right now. We’re hoping we can keep him that way.”
Segura agreed the 45 big league games he played in last season allowed him to have the trust in his physical abilities, but more importantly learn the mental grind the Major Leagues present.
“It’s helped me a lot,” Segura said. “When you come from the minor leagues and come to the big leagues it’s way different. You have all the scouting reports and have people looking at what you do every at bat and at your position. When you come here and play every day, it makes you feel better and you know you are going to be there.
“It helped my mental (ability) to play every day. I’m trying to have fun and I’m always trying to help the team to win a ballgame. As a player, I feel really good about it. This is amazing.”
The Dominican Winter League isn’t some joke of a league. Many big leaguers participate along with young players like Segura trying to hone their skills.
A player at the time three months away from his 23rd birthday winning the batting title in the league doesn’t happen frequently. It was just another notch in Segura’s belt, and yet another boost in confidence for the young shortstop.
“The winter league helps a lot,” Segura said. “It’s a good league to pitch in, to play in, to practice whatever you are working on over there. Winter ball is a difficult league. Especially when young guys go over there.”
Without the success of the final month of last season or the batting title this winter, the Brewers might have been hesitant to hand Segura the starting shortstop job. Considering Milwaukee has its previous two Opening Day shortstops on the roster could still create mental pressure for Segura.
But the Brewers don’t see Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt as anything other than veterans that can fill-in at multiple positions and provide insurance in case of an injury. They are committed to Segura.
He hasn’t just shown signs with the bat. When Segura was acquired, rumblings came he couldn’t play shortstop at the big league level. Those notions have been dismissed, as Segura has showed good range and an incredibly strong arm.
“It means a lot,” Segura said. “They know I have the tools to be a starting shortstop every day in the big leagues. This is amazing. A couple of years ago you look back and you are in the minor leagues. For me, it means a lot.”
It also means he doesn’t have to be looking over his shoulder. As a lot of teams continue their search to find young shortstop to build around, Melvin and the Brewers appear to have found a gem in the Greinke trade.
He’s still 23-years-old, and he’s certainly going to make mistakes as he navigates through his first full big league season. But the talent is there, and it should be a long time before the Brewers have to trot another shortstop out on Opening Day.
“I’m just trying to relax and play the game,” Segura said. “I know the good moments are going to come, I know the bad moments are going to come. It’s baseball. You are going to have good moments and you are going to get bad moments. It’s how you handle the bad moments that will make you a better player.